Italian cycling legend, “Lion of Flanders” Fiorenzo Magni dies aged 91 today. Also known as the “third man” in Italy during the era of rivalry between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, reportedly passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home in Monza, to the north of Milan.
Born near Prato in 1920, Magni won the Giro d’Italia three times: in 1948, 1951 and 1955. The third of those victories was taken at the age of 34, making him the oldest winner of the race to this day.
Between the years 1949-51 he became the first (and still the only) cyclist to win three consecutive editions of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders, one of the cobbled-classics); earning himself the nickname of “il Leone delle Fiandre”, the Lion of Flanders.
Despite this however, the most famous image of Magni – and one of the most iconic in cycling – is from the 1956 Giro d’Italia where, as defending champion at the age of 36, he refused to give up despite a fractured shoulder. Unable to pull on the bars because of the pain Magni tied a bandage to his bars and, holding it between his teeth, pulled his way up the mountains that way. In an incredible display of determination, he finished the race in second place, just 3 minutes and 27 seconds behind Charly Gaul of Luxembourg.
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In 1950, he had his best chance to win the Tour de France, but while wearing the yellow jersey, was forced to retire during the 12th stage.
Magni remained involved in cycling after his retirement in 1956, as a directeur sportif, as national team manager and later as president of the riders’ association. In recent years, Magni was a driving force behind the cycling museum at the chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo, on the route of “Il Lombardia”.
When asked what it was like to ride against Coppi and Bartali, Fiorenzo’s reply was:
“In life, defeats are more likely to happen than wins. Losing to Coppi and Bartali, and therefore congratulating them, is an experience that I am happy to have had and an experience that taught me a lot…
…Not only they were champions, they were also great men. Why do you think we are still speaking about them? Because they made history. I consider myself lucky because racing with them I could be part of this history. I would have won more without them but it wouldn’t have been during a legendary cycling era.”